The power of women helped make the newly-formed Treaty Land Sharing Network a reality, an initiative that is considered to be the first step toward land-based reconciliation and fulfilling and implementing the Treaty relationship. The group held a press conference Thursday to publicly launch the project at the farm of Mary Smillie and Ian McCreary near the village of Bladworth, which is 100 kilometers south of Saskatoon.
Smillie was joined by Valerie Zinc, Martha Jane Robbins, Naomi Beingestner, Hillary Aiken, Amy Seesekwasis and Emily Eaton with the group working together in forming an alliance between farmers, ranchers and Indigenous land users. The grassroots movement is composed of a group of people that aims to fulfill what the treaties intended – allowing for access by Indigenous people for gathering plants and medicines, hunting and ceremony.
“I’d like to say a little bit about the women that are leading this initiative. It is seven of us and it started with Valerie Zinc and a number of her good friends, I called them my favourite ‘Maggies,’ said Smillie. “Margaret Mead said never underestimate what a small group of people can do to change the world. And when I said to these women, they said: of course, [we’re a] team. We’re all on this together. Amy (Seesekwasis) and I joined them. We now are the group of seven and yeah, we will carry forth.”
Smillie added, “The other thing that is ... important and interesting about the design of this strategy, it is elegantly simple and it is fundamentally very complex. So, people can get behind the simplicity of it and then the work is in reconciliation piece, which is about committing to the conversations that you need to have. And committing to what we need our politicians and leaders to do differently into the future. All of that requires all of us.”
She added that the project does not end with farmers and ranchers that are taking part in the TLSN just posting the signs, which is just the first step of their movement, but it will take a lot more work with the network spread out in the entire province in both Treaty 4 and Treaty 6. The border between Treaty 4 and Treaty 6 is about four miles north of the farm of the McCrearys.
“We’re really on the cutting edge if you know how many farms, community members, are involved in this. Right now, we have about 20 and they’re here today to pick up their signs and to celebrate with us from all over. The Treaty lands are enormous tracts of lands. Treaty 4 takes in Regina and goes far into Manitoba. Treaty 6 goes up far into North Battleford and Alberta.”
Smillie said that currently farmers and ranchers that are part of the TLSN can be found in the resort village of Cochin, south of Moose Jaw, the town of Delisle, and the town of Kerrobert.
“It just gives you a little bit of a parameter. This is a small but important step that we can take as farmers toward upholding our responsibilities as Treaty people. It’s something concrete that we can do to begin to build a more just future for the prairies.”
Bradley Desjarlais, who is a hunter and committee member of the Anishnabek Nation Treaty Authority, said Indigenous people like him, having no access to land use, could not exercise their inherent rights that would result in them not meeting the needs of their communities. Ongoing privatization and stricter trespassing laws are making it difficult for Indigenous peoples to access land.
“The [TLSN] is not only opening access to privately held land, it is opening a possibility to build a respectful and positive relationships based on the Treaty principles of mutual respect and mutual benefit,” said Desjarlais.
“It is the people who will lead Treaty implementation. We see that here today,” added Treaty Commissioner Mary Culbertson.
Close to 100 individuals — farmers, ranchers, and Indigenous peoples — attended the launch that began with a pipe ceremony, organized by the Office of the Treaty Commissioner.